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Re-imagining the new joiner’s onboarding experience

14 minute read

It is not just your organisation that chose them; they chose you: your company, your people, your values. The whole point of offering an end-to-end onboarding programme is to help them feel a sense of belonging and hit the ground running.

For a long time, large organisations have onboarded new joiners by focusing on their technical processes: what are the tools that they use, which systems do they use, how do they work? According to the Human Capital Institute, almost 60% of organisations focus their onboarding programme on process and paperwork. Less attention has been given to the culture, the people and the social aspect of joining a new organisation. It is no surprise then, that 88% of employees think their organisation does a bad job onboarding people1, resulting in lower retention and productivity.

On the other side of the spectrum, start-ups have been creating fantastic onboarding packs and programmes, embracing their purpose and celebrating the value of the new hire.

As stated by Glassdoor, onboarding programmes have been shown to improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Re-thinking your end-to-end onboarding process can help not only improve your retention, but to create a happier culture, people and improve business results. A personalised yet informative approach needs to be taken into consideration to guarantee a good onboarding experience. Most importantly, a constant effort from all employees should be taken to welcome new joiners.

Both at EY Seren and at EY we aim to “build a better working world.” We work on employee experience projects using our User Research and Service Design approaches to uncover people’s needs, expectations.

Both at EY Seren and at EY we aim to “build a better working world.” We work on employee experience projects using our User Research and Service Design approaches to uncover people’s needs, expectations. We also map current and future journeys to be able to re-think and offer new joiners an exciting onboarding experience. We care about people - our clients and our own. We re-imagine onboarding experiences to help new joiners quickly learn about your company’s ways of working, and to enlighten them with your company culture. The intention is to support them to understand their role and also allow them to feel a sense of belonging.

In this article, I will explore the five most common errors that employers fail to address when onboarding new starters and I will provide some tips and examples to help you reconsider your own process.

5 most common errors in the current onboarding experience

  1. Not considering what the new joiner might be feeling: New hires arrive at their new organisation full of anxiety and nervous expectations. They usually come from stressful recruitment processes and depending on the size of the organisation, the process could take even longer, increasing the new joiner’s levels of anxiety.

    You also have to remember that besides applying to your company, they possibly spent months interviewing for other organisations. To give you an idea, 73% of job seekers say the process of looking for a job is one of the most stressful events in life.2

    Job hunting is an exhausting process. Organisations tend to forget that; how the new joiner is feeling at that particular moment. This comes to the second common error:

  2. Lack of celebration: Your onboarding process should make sure to celebrate that a new, incredibly talented person, is joining your family. It is not just your organisation that chose them; they chose you: your company, your people, your values. The whole point of offering an onboarding programme is to help them feel a sense of belonging and hit the ground running.

    But organisations often don’t celebrate enough! Even if your company is hiring many people in one go it is still important that, for every new joiner their experience is unique; “It’s my dream job”, “I finally got accepted”.

    At this particular time when we are not only working remotely, but also onboarding people virtually, recognising and valuing each and every person becomes even more important. Simple messages like “Congratulations! We are very excited to have you onboard. It’s been quite a journey getting here – thanks again for choosing us.” could make someone’s day.

  3. Focus on technology and internal systems rather than on people: Large organisations often use many internal processes and systems that the new joiner will have to quickly learn. As previously mentioned, 58% of organisations say their onboarding programme is focused on process and paperwork.3 Proving that new hires experience an onboarding process that is too tech-focused with little time to get to know colleagues and socialise with new people.

    There is a clear need to bring people back to the forefront. Using an ’employee-centric’ (or human-centric) approach, is fundamental to helping re-imagine their experience. After all, you don’t want your new joiner to spend their first days dealing with IT issues or getting bored with online training.

    Socialising is fundamental. And it’s not just an HR or a one-man-job. Establishing a positive organisational culture requires an effort from all employees. Everyone has to play a role in helping new joiners feel welcome onboard.

  4. Buddies and managers are too busy to support: ‘Buddy systems’ are a well-known concept in many organisations. A buddy is a person that usually sits inside your team or department and supports the new joiner during their first weeks and months enabling them to get up to speed fast. Around 85% of organisations that assign a buddy program during the onboarding process say that it’s an effective way to speed up new hire proficiency.4

    Besides helping new hires to better understand how the organisation works and how to use internal systems, buddies often turn out to be their first ‘work friends’. The more the buddy engages with the new joiner during their first 90 days, the more likely they will be both productive and excited in their jobs. At Microsoft, for instance, after doing an experiment with 600 employees, they found that 56% of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days indicated that their buddy helped them to quickly become productive in their role. That percentage increased to 97% for those who met more than eight times in their first 90 days.5 That’s how important buddies are!

    Managers are as important: as claimed by Gallup, when managers take an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times as likely to feel like their onboarding process was successful. Managers are the ones who will guide the new joiners about their role in a project, what is expected from them and how to improve. Seventy-two percent of employees say that having one-on-one time with their manager is the most important part of any onboarding process.6

    What often happens, however, is that both buddies and managers are too busy, which negatively impacts the experience and development of the new joiner. By creating a formalised approach to the Buddy scheme, with training instances, you can support buddies having the time and space to support new hires. Moreover, by communicating with the new hire’s manager before the new joiner’s first day and explaining the importance of their individual orientation, you can help overcome this.

  5. An unstructured onboarding process: The lack of, or an unaligned, onboarding process can negatively influence the experience of new joiners. Imagine that it is your first day at the organisation and no one knows you are joining. Or imagine if another new joiner from another department joined and received a welcome kit but you didn’t, how this would make you feel?

    A recent Gallup poll found that only 12% of employees say their company does a good job of onboarding. And if you do it right, you could improve new hire retention by 82%. To give you an insight into how big the problem is, BambooHR recently completed a study about onboarding and new-hire orientations surveying more than 1,000 people. They discovered that 31% of people have left a job within the first six months, with 68% of those departing within three months, due to a difficult onboarding experience and unmatched expectations about the role. Not “receiving clear guidelines to what responsibilities were”, lack of “more effective training” and lack of “a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference” were also mentioned.

    Joining a new organisation means having to get to know a new environment, new colleagues, all their names and roles. Who is who? What are the processes and systems you have to learn? Entering a new company is hard, especially when you consider all the emotions you have as a new joiner in your first few days on the job.

    That’s why having a clear end-to-end onboarding process is so important; to offer a meaningful experience to every new joiner, providing a clear guidance of the people inside your company, how your organisation works, how the new joiner is contributing to it and adding value. Moreover, if done well, it can also create consistency in how you onboard your people across all service lines and levels.

So, how can we re-imagine the new joiner’s onboarding experience?

To help answer this question and also to deal with the five key common errors I just mentioned, here are some tips for you to start reconsidering your own onboarding process:

Anticipate information and celebrate even before they start. Do it in a tangible way.

A new job should be celebrated and particularly during these times, working from home, where anxiety and feelings of insecurity may be heightened. A great opportunity to do that is at the end of the recruitment journey. Either once the new joiner signs a contract or right after the pre-screening process is complete, you could create a celebratory moment.

Sending something tangible that new joiners can look through is even more exciting. This could help to create that ‘wow’ reaction. Here at EY Seren, for instance, we developed a ‘Welcome kit’: before a new joiner starts working with us, we send them a surprise; a beautifully branded box with a booklet with key information about us, how we work, who is who, and a personalised letter welcoming them to our family.

As Lou Downe, writer of the ‘Good Services’ book said, “knowing what to expect helps people to plan and take control of the situation.” It gives them the agency to take over the situation. Setting the right expectations during the recruitment process can help. Furthermore, through giving them an informative booklet, you can anticipate information about what new hires should expect in working with you, which they could spend some proper time reading, in the quiet of their homes, and getting excited.

Anticipating information is also fundamental at an internal instance as well. The recruitment team should inform the line manager and the buddy about the new joiner and explain the importance of them making proper time to welcome the new hire. A playbook with clear guidance is a good option to formalise that. Here is a check-list of key activities that we recommend:

Formalise your onboarding process. A check-list of key activities and a buddy programme can help.

To formalise your programme, it is always good to follow best-practice and build upon activities you are already doing informally. Moreover, creating a check-list of key activities that the new joiners should do, not only during their 1st week, but throughout their whole onboarding process that could take up to six months, is helpful to give them clear milestones and guidance.

As a rule of thumb, in order to have a great onboarding process, it is highly recommended that:

It is also important to create or formalise a ‘buddy scheme’. For a new starter, having someone outside of their manager frequently checking in with them helps them to build a more social connection with another person in the company. Having a designated buddy is just as relevant virtually. This is important as it allows the new joiner to ask questions and gain advice from a peer who has gone through the same experience.

Encourage and guide your people to better support the new joiner. Do it in a human-emphatic way.

Whether an employee has direct contact with the new joiner, like a line manager or a buddy, or will interact with them on a less frequent basis, it’s the whole experience of being in a new company that matters. All employees have a role to play.

Supporting the new joiner not only in their first days but through their whole employee cycle is fundamental to maintain curiosity and a sense of belonging. At EY Seren, for instance, our Diversity & Inclusion team developed an initiative called ‘Coffee Roulette’; every quarter we receive random pairings of people to encourage virtual catch-ups with people who otherwise might not meet and talk to each other.

To encourage your employees to always keep welcoming others, organising activities like this provides an opportunity to meet new people and learn about the broad capabilities of your organisation, and most importantly encourages a 15 min break from work to enjoy a nice cuppa. During times when we are working from home, setting both virtual coffees and in-person meetings with team members are fundamental. A nice way to incentivise that is by offering voucher-lunches, paid by the company.

Another way of showing to your employees the importance of welcoming new hires is by developing an Onboarding Playbook. It keeps things simple for all employees by condensing their roles and responsibilities into 1-pagers and additional hyperlinks will give them a richer context when required. Here at EY Seren, for instance, we developed a Playbook – you can download our template here and start implementing in your company.

We also included micro-actions to encourage our people to adopt small gestures. Micro-actions? Yes. According to the experts Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, from the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, micro-actions are “Actions or gestures which are so small and easy that they hardly feel worth doing”. Examples are:

Tell me about yourself

Walk me through my paces


I hope that this article has inspired you and your organisation to re-think the way you are currently onboarding new joiners. If you are experiencing any of these five key common errors at the moment, let’s have a chat.

  1. Not recognising the new joiner’s feelings
  2. Lack of celebration
  3. Focus on technology and internal systems rather than on people
  4. Buddies and managers are too busy to support
  5. An unstructured onboarding process

At EY Seren we want to “build a better working world” for us and for our clients. Starting with your own people is the first step. Let’s bring people back to the forefront. Valuing employees in a human-centric way, giving them the knowledge, support and relationships they need to hit the ground running. Nurturing a positive and engaging culture should be the way forward.